The more things change, the more it’s a comfort to know that some things stay the same. Like “dick pain hurts” is still absolutely hilarious. This is made outrageously clear with Jackass Forever, a sublimely stupid sequel that reunites the stuntmen, pranksters, and fools who became icons of jackassery 20 years ago.
Johnny Knoxville and much of his original MTV gang are back for the fourth installment of cinematic shenanigans, a side-splittingly funny collection of segments that involve cartoonish violence, projectile vomit, poop jokes, wild animals, and more full-frontal nudity than any other franchise would dare. It’s gross. It’s childish. It’s like coming home again.
Directed once more by Jeff Tremaine, the titular jackasses’s antics are captured in exquisitely shot slow-motion. This makes animal bites, blows to the balls, and lightning-fast collisions with water, walls, and a rampaging bull all the more eye-popping. Every fold of skin, every crunching bone, every bit of tearing flesh is immortalized and offered up for us to gawp over. Sometimes it’s too much. You may avert your eyes. You may gag. No shame in that. Even storied documentarian/cameraman Lance Bangs can’t keep it together, vomiting decades after he first blew chunks in Jackass: The Movie.
Pushing the boundaries of what an audience can stomach has always been a part of Jackass. So, even now, watching this movie feels like a dare proposed by compelling party boys. Yet there’s a shift in which boundaries these clowns will gleefully pitch themselves into.
While there are still animal stunts, there’s a concerted effort to be sure the animal involved is kept safe from harm, be it a rattlesnake, bear, vulture, or tarantula. Gone are both the jaunts abroad, where an Ugly American schtick leaned too readily into mocking a foreign culture, as well as pranks among the public that would make a stranger the butt of a joke. COVID precautions made play a part in this, as this sequel’s pranks show bystanders either outside or wearing face shields. (It’s harder to capture shocked reactions when people are masked). However, it seems more a shift in attitude. The overall feel of the film is one of inclusion, inviting people into the fun, not terrorizing unsuspecting outsiders for laughs.
It’s gross. It’s childish. It’s like coming home again.
Early on, a silly game show setup involving a punishing flip-flop reminds us of the fun to be had at being in on the joke. The gang is crowded together on couches, watching Knoxville unleash agony on contestants, who get thwacked in the crotch for wrong answers. Throughout the film, the gang cheers each other’s successes and laughs (good-naturedly) at their failings. Come hell or buckets of pig semen, they’re a team. And masterful cinematography gives sharp coverage that keeps us in the mix, taking us behind the scenes, into the thick of the spotlighted jackass, and in the huddle of onlooking buddies, primed to howl with commiseration or victory. We are welcomed into the warm embrace of being part of the gang. And amid all the laughter, gagging, and dropped jaws, there’s a heartwarming elation. The camaraderie becomes as powerful as the high-octane slapstick comedy.
Alongside familiar faces like Jason “Wee Man” Acuña, Dave England, Spike Jonze, Ehren McGhehey, and Chris Pontius, new members have been inducted into the fun and games. Some are fans who grew up on the prank show and are eager to be a part of its continued legacy, like Zach Holmes, who is truly up for anything. Then there are celebrity cameos from comedians, skateboarders, pro athletes, and a certain Arrested Development star, whose appearance in a terrifically bonkers opening sequence is as inexplicable as it is brief. In a fittingly joyful tone, Pontius sings of the pleasure of passing the torch to this new generation of jackasses. But make no mistake, even the old-timers take big risks.
The camaraderie becomes as powerful as the high-octane slapstick comedy.
Approaching their 50s, Knoxville and Steve-O show signs of aging. Greying hair has turned each into a certain brand of silver fox, wild but nonetheless alluring. Still, they are down to clown. As Steve-O says in a trailer, “Concussions aren’t great, but as long as you have them before you’re 50, it’s cool. And Knoxville is 49, so we’re good.” Of course, they’ll do dangerous bits involving bees, bulls, and a human-launching cannon. They are still jackasses, after all. And that’s genuinely comforting, maybe even inspiring.
As Americans get older, there’s a suffocating expectation that we’re supposed to become mature and responsible and chronically unhip. We’re supposed to slide out of the spotlight of pop culture with dignity and retire to a rocking chair or something. Look, our backs may be banged up, our hair may be thinning, our smiles may have left wrinkles, but we’re not dead yet. Alive inside us is not just an inner child, but an inner twentysomething who still finds intense pleasure in dick jokes, dumb stunts, and the joys of being a jackass. Jackass Forever is a celebration of the blurry line between youth and adulthood, and how it’s totally worth shitting all over.
Sure, we’re a little older, a little wiser, but slapstick is forever. And slap-dick is comedy gold.
Jackass Forever opens in theaters on Feb.4.